A Free Syrian Army fighter near Deraa, Syria January 2, 2016.
Alaa Al-Faqir / Reuters

In September 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama, usually so optimistic about the future of the liberal world order, grimly described the challenges to it before the UN General Assembly: “dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.” The threat of the Islamic State (also called ISIS) is only one of those currents, but it is certainly the most immediately threatening, a pseudo-state with an army, access to funding, an appealing religion-based ideology, and the capability to launch, or inspire, mass terrorist attacks anywhere. It is bankrupting those regional states that are trying to cope with it and providing the excuse for a destabilizing Russian regional intervention and a budding axis with Damascus and Tehran.

U.S. officials beginning with Obama have repeatedly stressed that the U.S. mission is not to contain ISIS but to “defeat” and “destroy” it. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has

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  • JAMES F. JEFFREY is Philip Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2010 to 2012, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.
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